"I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I knew it was going to be an exciting challenge."

When Ian Lucas took on the role as Hertswood School's first headteacher, he had no delusions as to the scale of the task ahead of him.

But he did have years of experience behind him. At 32 he was appointed to the top post at Hatch and Wood School, New Cross, south London making him the youngest secondary headteacher in the country.

He also came with an impressive track record of transforming under-achieving schools. Prior to taking over at Hertswood, he had raised Southgate's Broomfield School into the top five per cent of schools of a similar status.

Perhaps most importantly, he had the drive.

Hertswood's chair of governors, Graham Taylor, said those reasons were exactly why Mr Lucas was chosen to head the secondary school, which was opened as part of a major reorganisation of education in Borehamwood.

He said: "We appointed Ian because we wanted someone to raise the level of education in Borehamwood.

"We wanted someone to get the school into a position where it was seen as the school of choice in the area. We were concerned that parents in Borehamwood were choosing to send their kids to schools outside of the town."

In 1999, a year before Hertswood opened its doors, Mr Lucas told the Borehamwood & Elstree Times: "I hope the new school will become a centre of excellence, not just in Hertfordshire, but nationally."

The radical transformation of schooling in Borehamwood involved the replacement of the town's old three-tier system of lower, middle and upper schools with a two-tier system.

Lyndhurst, Furzehill and Holmshill middle schools were to close, along with Hawksmoor and Hillside upper schools.

A super secondary school' was to be established on the sites of Hawksmoor and Holmshill, and the reorganisation would be paid for through the sale of the Hillside, Lyndhurst and Furzehill sites for housing development.

Even before Hertswood opened it was blessed with some luck at least for one of its governors.

Mr Taylor remembers an unexpected phone call from one of his colleagues, former Town Mayor Bill Moir. "He was the chair and I was the vice chair," he said. "But one day he didn't turn up to a meeting.

"The following day I got a call from him. He said he was in Southampton and that he had just won the lottery and was not coming in. I never saw him again."

Despite the loss of Mr Moir, the school opened in September 2000. Mr Lucas has vivid memories of the first day.

"Some members of the local community said that we would never be able to get the kids to wear the uniforms," he said. "But they all turned up, wearing their uniforms, looking smart.

"It felt great because it was the end of the planning stages. Now students and staff were bringing life to the school."

Speaking about his early hopes for Hertswood, he added: "For me the real big challenge was to get Borehamwood to have a good reputation.

"At the time Chris Tarrant was on radio taking the mickey out of Borehamwood. I remember people from Borehamwood were upset that people from outside the town were always knocking Borehamwood.

"When we first opened we had a lot of trouble getting staff.

"I used to have people say to me, I would sooner cut off my right arm than send my child to your school.' Now a lot of people who said they would never send their children to the school are doing it.

"This school was in a category called causing concern'. But we had a letter a little while back saying that the school was no longer in that category. That was a great letter to receive."

He said that the vast majority of parents had supported Hertswood, and many who had taken a chance' were now recommending it to others.

Hertswood received its first Ofsted report in 2003, which praised its achievements since its launch. It praised Mr Lucas for providing the strong leadership necessary to establish the school and take it forward'.

This year the school recorded its best ever exam results, with 46 per cent of GCSE pupils achieving five or more A* to C grades, compared to 23 per cent in 2001.

Although Hertswood has come in for criticism, not least from people complaining of bullying, the school does appear to have made significant progress.

Mr Taylor agreed that, under Mr Lucas's leadership, the school has come a long way. "He built the school from scratch," he said. "He had to employ every member of staff and he's done an incredible job, making sure the school was built and motivating students and staff. He told them that they could achieve and when people believe they can gain success, they usually do. But it wasn't easy."

Mr Lucas joins Aylward School, Enfield, in December. He will be replaced by Jan Palmer-Sayer, former acting headteacher at Sandringham School in St Albans.